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Patients Prefer Email, Patient Portals for Lab Result Alerts

Ninety-eight percent of patients want to receive their lab results online in an email or patient portal.

Most patients prefer seeing lab results online in a patient portal or email.

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Most patients prefer receiving their laboratory results online via email or the patient portal, despite some data privacy and security concerns, according to a study published in the American Journal of Managed Care.

In a survey of 200 patients with internet access, the research team found that 98 percent of patients wanted lab result alerts via short secure messaging services, and 100 percent preferred viewing their lab results online through an email or the patient portal.

Over three-quarters (77 percent) of patients preferred receiving their lab results online because doing so saved them more time than receiving a phone call or going to the doctor’s office. Seventy-seven percent of patients reported spending up to an hour at the hospital retrieving test results in person, highlighting how time-consuming the process can be.

Thirty-one percent of patients stated that accessing their lab results online reduces the risk of missing important lab information.

Preferences for accessing lab results via email versus patient portal were about evenly split. Slightly more patients (52.5 percent) preferred accessing lab results via email than via the patient portal (47.5 percent).

Patients largely cited data privacy and security concerns to justify their preferences for email notifications. Forty percent of patients stated that they thought email notifications were more secure than patient portal notifications.

The research team also identified a strong relationship between internet usage and trust in patient portal websites. Patients who were frequent internet users were more likely than others to distrust online patient portals.

The researchers did find that a notable patient population – about 16 percent – didn’t trust the security of email notifications or online patient portals. This underscores a need for providers to review with patients all of the safeguards that target health data security and patient privacy.

“Findings showed that although patients wanted to benefit from online services for receiving their test results, they were concerned about confidentiality and security,” the researchers said. “Before using online technologies, security measures necessary to protect patient privacy and to gain the trust of patients should be defined.”

Researchers in this current study protected lab results and patient information by using ID numbers.

“The patients were told they would be issued an ID number when initially taking the test and that individualized number would need to be entered to see the test results,” the research team explained. “With such an approach, unauthorized persons cannot easily access the data. However, the acceptability and feasibility of this approach should be studied.”

Patients overwhelmingly favored a similar data security effort going forward, the researchers found.

Additionally, the research team found that patients were open to receiving negative test results – or a concerning health diagnosis – online.

About 82 percent of patients preferred to receive both normal and abnormal test results through the patient portal, a result the researchers found striking. This indicates that patients are not concerned with receiving abnormal test results in a personal manner.

This finding should ease concerns about the lack of personal connection that sometimes comes with patient engagement technologies. Some healthcare professionals worry that patients who receive bad news online have difficulty with care planning, the researchers explained.

“The lack of face-to-face interaction with laboratory staff, and of their personal encouragement, may result in the failure of patients with abnormal lab results to plan for their next treatment steps,” they pointed out.

An overwhelming preference for receiving lab results online does not necessarily put this fear to rest. However, understanding that patients will want to see their lab results online can help clinicians prepare for further patient engagement in chronic care management.

According to the researchers, determining patient preferences with regard to receiving lab results is a key aspect of healthcare. Understanding how patients want to receive their lab results will facilitate better patient-provider communication and patient satisfaction.

In the current study, understanding two key findings about lab result access – that patients are concerned with security and that patients want to receive both normal and abnormal results online – will help clinicians with future communications.

Going forward, other healthcare organizations should conduct patient preference questionnaires to determine the most satisfactory method for disseminating health information to patients. By understanding a target population’s preferences, healthcare professionals can ensure a more comfortable and efficient healthcare experience for patients.